8 things you can do to help end homelessness, as told by experts and activists
1. Donate through alternate support groups
Donating to groups that help change lives of the homeless is one main way of ending it, according to Cllr Sharon Thompson, the cabinet member for homes and neighbourhoods.
“Lots of people ask me if I should give money to rough sleepers. I’m not in a position to advice you about your spending, but I might buy someone a meal rather than give money directly.
But I encourage people to donate through groups like ‘Change into Action’,” Sharon said.
Change into Action is an alternative giving scheme supporting specialist charities with street teams working to change the circumstances of rough sleepers.
The organisation is a partnership between Birmingham City Council, the Mayor of the West Midlands and the West Midlands Combined Authority aimed at addressing rough sleeping.
All donations are kindly received and held by Birmingham Voluntary Services Council (BVSC) before being assigned to individual needs.
Sharon also said the organisation focuses on practical solutions like getting identification documents for rough sleepers to obtain benefits and helping to buy cheap phones to stay in touch with their caseworkers.
2. Encourage people at risk to come forward as early as possible
Sharon also wants the people at risk of being homeless to approach the council as soon as possible. If you know anyone without a job and/or a place to stay, encourage them to come forward before it gets too late.
“A lot of people don’t think of being homeless when they fall into difficulty. Falling behind rent a few weeks, losing a job and not being able to find a new jobs in these times could potentially lead to homelessness. So what we say is to come forward as soon as possible to look at housing options. All the details are available on the council website and advice can be sought over the phone.
“There are options to negotiate rental agreements and housing benefits issues with landlords. We also have systems in place to help. The council is also going to be relaunching the housing options to look into the prevention space more,” Sharon said.
The most common reason of single homelessness in the UK was friends or family being no longer able or willing to accommodate followed by the end of an assured shorthold tenancy according to reports published by Homeless Link
3. If you see a person living rough, report it via StreetLink
If you see someone struggling in the streets, report it through Streetlink, which directly alerts the local authorities and the outreach team.
StreetLink is a website, mobile app and phone service for England and Wales, which enables people to send an alert when they see someone sleeping rough to connect that person to local support services that can help to end their homelessness.
After a member of the public provides details about the rough sleeper’s location and general appearance, they are sent to the correct independent local homelessness outreach team so they can locate the individual and connect them to support services.
“The person sending the alert initially receives details of the action the outreach team normally takes when they are told someone is sleeping rough, which will vary locally. StreetLink also finds out what has happened as a result of the alert within 14 days and, if requested, provides the member of the public with an update,” the StreetLink website says.
“The system logs where the reports are coming from. So if we see a spike in an area for a long time, we can send the resources to make sure its been dealt with,” Sharon said.
4.Help people stay indoors
Jean Templeton, chief executive of St Basils charity and chairperson of WMCA homelessness task force encourages the public to help people stay indoors at all times during this pandemic.
“Lets not bring more people into the streets,” Jean says.
“Sustaining a street lifestyle is not a good thing to do during the pandemic. So always try and help the people stay indoors whenever you can. You can do this by donating food to local foodbanks and volunteering and donating to charities that help people to stay indoors.”
There are currently an estimated 991 accommodation projects in place for individuals experiencing homelessness in England with a total of 181 day centres.
Data from Homeless England indicates that there has been a reduction in both the number of accommodation projects and the number of day centres over the past year.
West Midlands have 3323 bed spaces across 86 projects and 12 day centres.
More information about charities in helping which helps people stay indoors can be found here.
5. Find and support local groups that are taking action
Sam Burgum, a lecturer and researcher of squatting, housing and urban movements wants people to help end homelessness by helping support groups.
“If you see a rough sleeper in trouble, call an ambulance and manage to get help. Have empathy and spread the message about the homeless and get a conversation started to spread awareness,” Sam said.
There were 2,688 people estimated to be sleeping rough on a single night in autumn 2020 according to the ministry of housing. Research done by Homeless Link revealed that there are currently 991 accommodation projects for single homeless people in England.
6. Volunteer whenever you can
Alan Strang, the founder and a trustee of Let’s Feed Brum wants the public to volunteer whenever they have the chance.
The charity is helping the homeless in a grassroot level by providing food, drink, and essential supplies to people living rough on the streets. The volunteers also specialise in going through different routes around Birmingham in the night to provide free meals to the rough sleepers.
“There are lots of marginalised and helpless communities among us who are in dire need of our help. Most of them have nowhere to go and depends on charities for survival. Volunteer whenever you can and help local charities take care these people,” Alan said.
7. Have a conversation with people sleeping rough
Ken Cheung, an assistant psychologist at central and north west London NHS foundation trust wants the public to talk and listen to people sleeping rough.
“It’s important to spend time with people sleeping rough and talking with them. Most of these people are suffering from mental health problems. If you notice a person having stress, depression or anxiety, refer them to a local service or alert a charity about the person and make sure they get help. Signposting is very important,” Ken said.
Of the 68,170 households owed a homelessness duty by the government, 30,670 were identified as having support needs according to a report by Homeless Link. The most common support need was mental health, which was reported by 14,950 households.
“Mental health issues are the most commonly reported support need experienced by people accessing accommodation providers as well as day centres. Earlier studies showing that mental health problems are particularly prevalent among people experiencing homelessness,” the report said.
8. Lend a spare room if you have one
Christy Acton, the founder of a newly set up charity called Standing Tall wants the public to lend a spare room for 6 months to a rough sleeper who is starting to work.
Christy had been able to match 25 people living rough with jobs while working at a night shelter in Digbeth. Standing Tall had been able to provide permanent jobs for three people with nine more vacancies being available during the coming months in the construction and hospitality sector.
The charity also has an accommodation service called Amici, meaning ‘friend’ in Latin.
“If someone has a spare room and want to do their bit, they can be an Amici. Getting a good job is not enough and we need to find them a good home. When an individual joins with an Amici, we try to understand the interests of the person and make a connection to what the person likes and untap those passions,” says Christy.
People signing up for this program will have to go through a recruitment process with training and will be expected to host rough sleepers for six months.
To find out more about the charity and becoming an Amici, visit standingtall.org.uk.